In a (not-so) recent interview conducted in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary Book, Sakurai made a comment on how he creates the roster for each Smash game and it really shed some much-needed light when it came to fans trying to predict what to expect.
“Industry trends around the time when development begins is a pretty big factor. I started development on Smash for 3DS/ Wii U right after I’d wrapped up Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Fire Emblem Awakening was released one month after Uprising. So what’s popular around the time when I begin designing the game is important.” – Masahiro Sakurai (Translation by Soma).
With this new information in mind, I got curious. Is this something new for Super Smash Bros for Wii U & 3DS or has this been Sakurai’s philosophy throughout the Super Smash Bros series? Could the trends of the time really help to influence the roster this much? Does this mean that with the seemingly eventual Smash for Switch we should not start predicting characters until it is actually announced?
Brawl: May – July 2005
The time between Melee and Brawl was a lot longer than that of 64 and Melee. Between that time the gaming scene for Nintendo had changed dramatically. The entire GameCube and Gameboy Advance generation had gone by. This gave Sakurai a lot more to work with. Sakurai did not know if he would make a third Smash game and had left Nintendo by this point. He came back at the request of Satoru Iwata in 2005 and about 2 months later he began working on the project plan for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. A big theme we can see with Brawl was expansion. Everything in Melee was expanded upon such as the collectables, the mission mode and all the single player modes from classic to Adventure mode. Whether this was a deliberate decision by Sakurai and his team or just a natural evolution of the series we are not sure, but this theme of expansion even goes onto the characters we see added. Many of the newcomers come from already existing franchises rather than new ones.
To begin this analysis, I am going to go through the Nintendo characters that Sakurai had planned for previous iterations of Super Smash Bros. but only then made their official debut.
Previously Planned Characters:
King Dedede: Going back to Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64, King Dedede was one of the four characters we know Sakurai had planned for the game but never made it in (the other three being Bowser, Mewtwo and Marth who all made it to Melee). There is no concrete reason given for why King Dedede missed out on Super Smash Bros Melee and he has never been mentioned to have been thought of for that game.
The Kirby series was Sakurai’s original baby and so it is peculiar why it never got any new additions until Brawl. This along with the series major importance for Nintendo and HAL might be a big reason King Dedede was finally added. While the GameCube only saw Kirby’s Air Ride released (where King Dedede was playable), a second, main-line, GameCube Kirby title was in development at this time. Moving to the handheld side of things, the Kirby series was flourishing with a new title every single year from 2002-2005. There were two main titles on the GBA and a Nintendo DS launch title called Kirby: Canvas Curse which also saw King Dedede as a playable character. Kirby even got his own anime series (which Sakurai supervised) released in between Melee and Brawl that helped to increase the brand’s value and bring it to a wider audience. All of this made the Kirby series a much bigger franchise than it ever had been and so a new character, the original villain no less, made perfect sense.
Lucas: MOTHER 3 boasts one of the most tumultuous development cycles of any Nintendo title, having undergone several console changes and even a cancellation over the course of roughly a decade. The game was roughly 60% complete as of July 2004, a figure that inspired enough confidence in Sakurai to finally include Lucas as he intended to since the original Super Smash Bros. Sakurai also went on record saying he planned to replace Ness in Super Smash Bros. Melee if Earthbound 64 had released since Lucas would then have been more relevant.
As the title was cancelled in August of 2000 Ness stayed on, though Sakurai once again considered removing Ness for Lucas with Brawl. At the start of Brawl’s development, there was no Ness but when Sakurai discovered that MOTHER 3 would not see a western release he became hesitant. People outside of Japan would not be aware of who Lucas was and why he played like Ness did. So, in the end, Ness was brought back for western fans while Lucas was kept for those in Japan, where he would be relevant. This might be why Lucas is the only starting newcomer in Brawl who is a semi-clone of another character.
Olimar: Olimar is the only starter character who was from a new Nintendo franchise. Sakurai was aware of the captain back in the days of Melee but because Pikmin was a new IP that only came out only months before Melee’s release, Sakurai chose not to include him. Pikmin did well for the GameCube, having two major releases (as well as some e-reader games) so Olimar made sense. Olimar was fairly relevant and from one of the few new, major, character-driven Nintendo IPs that began between Melee and Brawl so he made for a perfect new series rep.
Wario: Sakurai wanted Wario in Melee and has stated before that if he had enough extra time to add another unique newcomer it would have been Wario. This means Wario was most likely a priority for Brawl and is why he appears in the first trailer for the game. One of the influences behind Wario in Brawl was to be the ‘funny’ character. Not a joke character like Jigglypuff and Pichu in the previous games but more goofy like Mr Game & Watch.
Wario went through major changes from Melee to Brawl. Wario World on the GameCube was the latest Wario Land game released and did moderately well. Looking to the handheld side of things however and we can see a different, more successful iteration of the character. Mario’s rival had hung up his plumber’s overalls and put on a new biker outfit in order to show off his new series, WarioWare. WarioWare went on to rival Wario Land, seeing a whole string of games released from 2003 onwards. There was also a fourth game in the works for the Wii whose development coincided with the project plan for this game. At this stage, WarioWare looked to be the future of the character and so that is why Sakurai chose that design to be his default.
However, Sakurai could not ignore Wario’s classic design as it was still being used in the Mario spin-off games, as well as Super Mario 64 DS that launched roughly six months before Brawl’s project plan began (November 2004). So, both designs were chosen for the character. Regardless of design, Wario was very relevant and was arguably the most important missing Mario character from Super Smash Bros. at this time, even if he represents a sub-series instead.
That covers it for all the characters we know had been planned/considered in a previous Super Smash Bros. game.
Worked on since the Start:
Meta Knight: Meta Knight was another character from the Kirby series and another character made by Sakurai. Debuting in Kirby’s second title, Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, he functions as something akin to Kirby’s rival. In terms of series relevancy, I already covered this above with King Dedede, however, it should be noted that Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, which launched for the GBA in 2004, heavily involved Meta Knight in its narrative. Before this, it was only Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby Super Star that had Meta Knight star in a major way.
Starting with the anime in 2001, and the remake of Kirby’s Adventure which was in development that year, Meta Knight became a major character appearing in every game from this point (unlike King Dedede who missed out in the Amazing Mirror). Finally. Meta Knight was playable in both Kirby’s Air Ride and Kirby: Canvas Curse.
Pit: Just like the Ice Climbers in Melee, Sakurai wanted a retro character and Pit fit this role very well in 2005. There had not been a new Kid Icarus game since Myths and Monsters on the Game Boy (although dialogue in Uprising implies that Sakurai may not have known about this game at the time, we do not know either way) but Pit had seen his first title, Kid Icarus, re-released on the GBA. Before the invention of the Virtual Console on the Wii, Nintendo decided to re-release a lot of its old NES and Famicom games on the GBA and Kid Icarus was one of these games in Japan. So, he was chosen as the new Ice Climber and was given a design update so that he may better fit in next to his sibling series, Zelda.
Zero Suit Samus: There are two ways we can look at Zero Suit Samus’ inclusion. On the one hand, we can see it as a stroke of luck, much like Sheiks. Final Smashes were the big, new, gameplay feature of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Sakurai probably wanted one of the new characters tied into the Final Smash gimmick and so a transforming character made sense. Samus has two forms that fit the previous idea of transforming characters that Sakurai had laid out in Melee: one character is slow and strong while the other is fast but weak.
On the other hand, Zero Suit Samus made the most sense as a new Metroid rep. Most of the other characters in Metroid are boss monsters and not suited to being playable. The characters who could be playable, like other bounty hunters, are mostly one-off characters introduced in the Prime series. So another Samus is all that is left.
Armorless Samus had been a staple of the Metroid series since the beginning and in the GBA game, Zero Mission, she was finally playable without her armour. The Metroid franchise was going to get a new rep in this game as it was this period where the series was at it’s most relevant. During development of the first two Smash games, Metroid had been in limbo; most stabs at continuing the franchise were cancelled, and Metroid Prime was stuck in development hell. However, between Melee and Brawl the franchise saw a massive resurgence with two games for the GameCube, two games on the GBA and a game on the Nintendo DS (Metroid Prime: First Hunt). Then in development, there was another two games for the Nintendo DS and one for the Nintendo Wii. So, Metroid was gonna stay very relevant in the near future and a new Metroid rep was a very sensible addition.
Pokémon Trainer: Pokémon was reaching its 10th anniversary very soon and the series relevancy was still on the up and up. A big part of the Pokémon franchise is the trainer character. In the games you only direct the Pokemon themselves, but the Pokémon are the ones that fight and the mascots of a mascot-driven series, so they were always the ones to be included in Smash. He chose to also use this character to represent Pokémon evolution, type matchups (the three Pokémon take slightly more or less damage in accordance with their types, such as Ivysaur taking more from fire attacks and less from water), and concept of the “starter Pokémon” which covers three major facets of the series that were previously absent in Smash. This is why Charizard, Ivysaur and Squirtle were chosen as the Pokémon for this trainer to use. Red, the original trainer, was decided on for the design presumably because Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen were the latest games, because Red was the original trainer, and because the original starters were the ones used. It was most likely their popularity that got them chosen, with Charizard being the most popular final evolution of the three (Blastoise was also considered) and Squirtle as a more popular starter than Bulbasaur (leaving Ivysaur via a process of elimination).
Looking at the relevance of Pokémon at this time, we see that the anime, movies and TCG were still going strong. The main series had just released its second series of GBA titles and was preparing the 4th generation of Pokemon games. The GameCube had seen two titles with a new one being developed for the Wii’s launch. The DS was getting a Pokemon racing game and the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Ranger series were in development at this point.
Diddy Kong: The Donkey Kong series was in a weird predicament in 2005. Thanks to Rare’s departure from Nintendo, there had not been a new mainline Donkey Kong game since Donkey Kong 64 on the Nintendo 64. This did not mean Donkey Kong was not around, though. A lot of spin-offs appeared in between Melee and Brawl, most notably the Donkey Konga series, a rhythm game that required its own enjoyably silly bongo peripheral.
The bongos were a big enough part of the GameCube’s life that this alone may have been why Diddy was chosen for Brawl. There were three Donkey Konga games on the GameCube, a platformer called Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which required them and then a racing game that was in development for GameCube that eventually came out on the Wii called Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast.
So, the series was recurring on the GameCube, and the GBA was not left out either. On Nintendo’s handheld, we saw a port of all three Donkey Kong Country games and a new spin-off game in 2005 called DK: King of Swing. All this makes Donkey Kong relevant at the time of the project plan. Why Diddy Kong was chosen over other characters is because of the original unique mechanic he had. In the project plan, he was part of a duo with Dixie Kong ala Diddy’s Kong Quest. It’s likely they would’ve been a hybrid of the Ice Climbers and the other transforming characters. Because of difficulties implementing the tag-team mechanic, this idea was scrapped and so Diddy stayed on, as he is the more important of the two, and Dixie was unfortunately left behind.
Ike: Sakurai viewed the Fire Emblem series as a big franchise when making Smash 64 and Melee, and in a way, he proved himself correct; Marth and Roy’s popularity in Melee gave Nintendo of Amerca justification to finally bring the series to the west with Fire Emblem on the GBA. Just like Kirby and Metroid, there had been a new Fire Emblem game every year since 2002 so the franchise was very relevant at this time. Sakurai did not know who to include, so he initially wrote down “New Fire Emblem rep.” Intelligent Systems were the ones who told Sakurai to use Ike, just like how they advised him to use Roy in Melee. Ike made sense as Path of Radiance was the newest Fire Emblem protagonist at the time of the project plan, and with its later Wii sequel, Radiant Dawn, he would be the most prominent of the series’ characters for some time.
Lucario: As ever, Pokémon was very relevant at this time, Lucario, in particular, was very important and in the minds of many fans in 2005. The decision for Lucario seems like a simple one, mainly thanks to the anime. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl was in development throughout 2005 but a few of the new Pokemon had already been revealed. Most of these were new baby Pokémon like Munchlax and Bonsly (who both made it into Brawl via Poké Balls) but one of these was Lucario. Not only was Lucario revealed early, but it starred in the 2005 Pokémon movie, Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew. This placed Lucario above most other Pokémon in the public eye and made him very popular. This, along with Sakurai’s desire to have a Pokémon from the newest games be present, made Lucario a clear choice. It is worth noting, however, that he was one of Brawl’s many characters who would have been cut without the extensive effort of the game’s programmers.
R.O.B.: Just like Mr Game & Watch in Melee, R.O.B. fills a certain niche being the “Nintendo History” character. In order to sell the NES in America and Europe after the video game crash of 1983, R.O.B. was created and packaged alongside the console so they could market it more as a toy and less of a video gaming device. This made R.O.B. somewhat of an icon back in the days of the NES despite only having two games, neither of which are particularly well regarded.But R.O.B. left his impact and Nintendo still holds him in high esteem, giving him cameos in games like Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and F-Zero GX. Due to his status, “relevance” was a non-issue; he had a place on the roster because of his history. Somewhat ironically, R.O.B. was relevant again in 2005 as he appeared as an unlockable character in Mario Kart DS, though Sakurai has gone on record saying he was not aware of this at the time of deciding R.O.B.
All the characters talked about so far were developed since the beginning of Brawl but, like every Super Smash Bros. game to date, some characters were added in later on. We know from the games files that nine characters were heavily considered during this period. Unfortunately, only three of them made it in: a returning Jigglypuff, along with newcomers Toon Link and Wolf.
As a side note, the other six characters along with Dixie Kong who was planned since the beginning became known by fans as the “Forbidden Seven.” These included cut veterans Roy, Mewtwo, and Dr Mario (who had varying amounts of work done on them) along with Toon Zelda, “Toon Sheik,” and a character people believe to be Plusle & Minun from Pokémon. These latter three would have all been relevant at this time due to the status of the Pokémon (as I discussed above) and Zelda (as I will discuss below) series.
Toon Link: There is evidence that Toon Link was added to the game as a replacement of Young Link. Various SFX are copied over from Young Link and the characters whole idea and stats are nearly identical. The only differences are a few standard attacks and the lack of fire arrows. The reason for even changing Young Link to Toon Link, however is entirely because of relevancy. In the GameCube and GBA era, the Zelda series had developed and popularised a late ‘90s graphical style known as cel-shading, which exploded in popularity after the release of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker in 2003. Within the franchise, it was followed by Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube, and Four Swords and Minish Cap on the GBA, all of which used this style. In these games, Link is a child, and with a more naturalistic and visually “gritty” Zelda in development at this time – one that starred an older Link – it made more sense to use the Twilight Princess style for the Zelda veterans. But Young Link, not being present since Majora’s Mask, could be changed to show off the series’ new and major art direction, along with one of the series’ important narrative elements: that most Links are entirely different characters with their own stories. This way Sakurai could keep everything that Young Link meant to the Smash Bros. series as well as show off the artistic and visual innovation central to the Zelda games. It also cut development time as Sakurai could use Young Link’s data for Toon Link unlike with Toon Zelda and Toon Sheik (who would have presumably been made up for Brawl).
Wolf: Our final Nintendo character was added very much on the tail end of development. Sakurai has gone on record to say that Wolf got in over other Star Fox characters, like Krystal, because 70% of the work to make him was already done. Wolf is a Frankenstein’s Monster of various other characters, primarily Fox and Falco, and because of that is a unique kind of semi-clone. Wolf is a fan favourite, and with Star Fox growing at the time his inclusion made sense. Star Fox saw two titles on the GameCube with the latter, Assault, featuring Wolf as a major character. There was also another Star Fox game for the Nintendo DS in development at this time and Miyamoto has stated that they were developing a Star Fox game for the Wii (although if development had already begun on this title during Brawl’s development we do not know). So, the Star Fox series had been relevant in the build-up to Brawl and Sakurai had no reason to think it’s relevancy would soon disappear.
You may have noticed that throughout this article I have specifically been saying “Nintendo characters” to refer to the previous newcomers. That is because Brawl heralded the introduction of guest fighters from third party companies. Konami’s Solid Snake and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog were both planned since the beginning of development. Guest characters require a different set of rules when discussing why they were included. Immediate relevancy is not as major a factor as it would be for the Nintendo characters; most of their “all-stars” had been added by this point. But the medium did, and still does, have a number of other iconic, beloved, influential, and historically important characters from outside Nintendo’s staple. This will be seen more in Smash For than in Brawl, but both of these characters have something interesting about their development that helped, and hindered, their inclusion in this game.
Snake: From Konami’s Metal Gear franchise, Snake stood out a fair bit as the first guest character chosen. The character’s history with Nintendo is iffy at best, getting nothing but ports and games not considered within the main series. The Metal Gear Solid franchise had been exclusive to Nintendo’s rivals Sony (except for a remake of the original on the GameCube and a GBC title, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel). However, the deciding factor for Snake’s inclusion happened to be his creator, iconic game director Hideo Kojima. A friend of Sakurai’s and a fan of the original Smash, Kojima actually requested to have Snake added into Melee. The game was too far in development for that to happen, but Sakurai promised that if there was a sequel Snake would be added. In terms of relevancy, The Twin Snakes (the aforementioned GameCube remake) came out in 2004, and Kojima had just finished wrapping up Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the game he saw as the end of the franchise. The Metal Gear Ac!d series on PSP was in development at this time as well, although Sakurai may not have been aware of it.
But while Snake’s relevance to Nintendo was (and continues to be) weak, his importance to games as a whole is inarguable. Metal Gear and especially Solid codified a number of the tropes and systems of stealth games, and their cinematic ambitions were influential in the development of more story-driven action games. They were also mammoth commercial successes for Konami, eventually becoming its most lucrative game series, and Snake himself is one of the medium’s great icons.
Sonic: In the Melee days, Sonic was a very popular fan request. Sonic was Mario’s corporate rival, the mascot of Sega (which had been out of the console business for years, but was still a major games publisher), and the second most important platforming hero in gaming; Sakurai wanted to make the fans happy, but Sonic was always a sensible choice. But while he was in the project plan, Sega turned down Sakurai’s request to add him, before changing their minds and agreeing to let him join in 2007. Sakurai had really hoped to include Sonic, so with Sega’s belated permission the staff worked to add him, causing the delays that led the game to release in 2008. This is why Sonic only shows up for the final boss fight in “the Subspace Emissary.”
While Sonic’s relevancy was still strong, it changed dramatically in the years between Melee and Brawl. With Sega out of the console market, he finally made his debut on Nintendo systems with the GameCube ports of the Adventure series, along with Sonic Advance for the GBA. Sonic Rush, Sonic Heroes, and Shadow the Hedgehog were also out at this time and a new Sonic the Hedgehog game in development for the Xbox 360 and PS3. According to Sakurai, the games that he looked at the most when deciding how to implement Sonic were the original Genesis titles and Shadow the Hedgehog, so he was drawing from both Sonic’s heydey and his contemporary releases.
Before we wrap up I also wanted to touch on Geno. He was a fan favourite character who completely goes against the idea of relevancy as he only had one major role that was over a decade old. Sakurai liked the character and what he could add to Smash so wanted him in. It never happened and we have no reason to know why but the most logical answer is rights issue as the character is owned by Square-Enix. I just wanted to mention it as he is an example that relevancy and status as an all-star are not always required as long as they are fun.
And with that, we have covered all of the characters introduced in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. There were some other characters considered that I missed out on but that is due to them being added in the sequel to Brawl, Super Smash Bros for, so I will cover them in the next article. I hope you look forward to it!